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One Veteran’s View of Independence Day

by Jason McDowell

When you think about the 4th of July, you’d expect it to have some significance for military service members. This holiday celebrates the founding of our country and the freedoms that we still fight for today. I was recently asked by a friend if veterans viewed this holiday any differently, and my immediate reaction was something like this: Yes! America! Freedom! Pass me a hot dog! QUIT HOGGING THE SPARKLERS!

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A Dark Day in Baghdad

by Ashley Bohn

On May 21, 2009 I woke up, put on my uniform, grabbed my weapon and made my short trek to the hospital. It was the same routine I had kept every day for 6 months as a surgical tech in the United States Army. I was attached to a combat support hospital called Ibn Sina, an Iraqi-built, American-run hospital in Baghdad, Iraq. I spent most of the morning taking inventory in the 3rd floor operating room and launching myself down our long hallway on a rolling stool. Around 11 a.m we, the operating room, got a call from the emergency room downstairs. When the OR nurse answered the phone, the look on her face told me all I needed to know: it was time to get ready.

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Thick, Black Smoke

by Brandy Williams


I rake leaves, place
in pile, and toss match. A
hard day’s work drips
from my brow. Flames duel,
dancing a waltz before ravaging
blood heart of a half-eaten
carcass. Acorns pop, whistle
like fighter planes dropping
from heaven. Pale, yellow earth
turns red. Smoke soaks
up landscape; white clouds drift
on breath currents.

White smoke is natural; black
is manmade.


We stood in shade,
methodically cleaning residue
from guns. I stepped out back
and lit up.

Black smoke—thick, black smoke billowed in air:
“Hey, what’s that?” I asked, pointing at the smoke.
“I’m not sure; white smoke is natural; black
is manmade,” he said.
We went back to the shade.

The radio chirped panicked voices—
“Ranger Five—Blackjack—landline, Now!”
The Humvee’s squealing tires,
the sergeant yelling—
“Get your gear! Plane down! Plane down!”
broke me from my trance.


We race across the desert,
as barren as my womb, heading
towards smoke—thick, black smoke.
Sand hammers my mouth, my lungs. We
follow smoke, catch air; up, down,
white knuckled, grind to a halt.

Pebbles drift over canyon’s edge—falls
like stone snow; imagine falling
like a stone, spiraling
to an unconscious end
on the crushed basalt below.

We tightrope the canyon’s edge
with our gear. It is there, the smoke—
thick, black smoke. And
just beyond the range—
the plane.
Hydrazine attacks my body
like a swarm of bees, and I
breathe shards of glass.

“What’s that smell?” I ask,
sniffing the air. Horrid, rancid—
like three day old meat, baking
under a desert sun. The world swirled
like a spindle top flipped
on its axis.

He is there, in the flames, floundering
like a fish finning for air.
Sinewy flesh drips
from bones.

Heat of a thousand suns scars
my face, melts off his. Flames dance
in his eyes.


I reach
for him, withdraw my charred
hand. He’s waving,
waving goodbye. No, it’s
just my nephew running
through vapor fields.

Brandy Williams is an Air Force veteran who served as a jet engine mechanic and an independent duty medical technician from 1997-2010. After she separated from the military, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in from Louisiana State University at Alexandria. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Southern Studies at Ole Miss.


by Reva Gaines

Pain, frustration at the pain, limiting my usual ability to…
My ability to think, to move without discomfort, to live.
I endure….
What was I thinking, oh yeah, concentration is a big issue, memory another…
I hurt; my neck, my back, my knees, my head aches, my feet, hurt…
How to sit or recline to alleviate the unending aches and pains?
Looking around my space, my desk is cluttered with unpaid bills, forgotten mail…
The sink in the kitchen and the countertop is overflowing, but hey, where is the
energy to care enough to clean up, or even freshen up?
I endure….
Let’s head to the bathroom, I need a shower after lying around for days…
On those days, most days, fatigue – can I get up and make it to the couch?
That’s progress right? Is there progress with depression, really ever?
Did I eat? Um, I think so, but I’m not sure. Some days my emotions and I stuff my face!
Did I sleep last night? Lost track of how many times I checked the clock, looked at the ceiling, got irritated…
Why do I do that? To endure, or go crazy!
Now I’m thinking about all of the times I screwed up, lost out, loser!
Mr. Depression please go away. Listless, uninspired, what was I saying?
What happened to everyone I knew over the last twenty or so years?
Oh, yes, no one loves me, I’m all alone today, tonight, tomorrow…
It’s not important, they aren’t here now, but my aches, pains, and depression visit often.
What can I say?
I endure….
How do I know? Because today I’m still here…

Reva Gaines served twenty years in the Army in places as far away as Germany, Japan, and Hawaii. She departed the military, but did not stop moving, she went on to earn a double MBA through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs vocational rehabilitation service. She gratefully owes her long career and education to the United States Army.

New Eyes

by AnnaLou Jackson

I see more clearly now.
Know more facts,
Understand more connections,

With this new sight
I see what may be lost.
How easy all is gone.
Feel how permanent is “forever”.

Life has found a new type of balance.
A double fisted stance,
Clenching pain in one
And hope in the other.

For neither will ever leave me now.

Annalou Jackson joined the U. S. Army in 1967 and served as a medical laboratory technician for five years. After the service she attended university and made a career in the laboratory industry. She has written verse as a hobby for many years and is enjoying having more time for it now in retirement.

For My Babies

by Nicolya’ Jones

From the day I knew you were on the way, I was afraid for you
Would I be able to care for you? Could I possibly love you enough?
Would I be a good friend to you? Could I show you unconditional love?
I’ve never thought of myself capable of loving you as much as I do.
You are a part of me, a memory and my future all wrapped up into one.
You are a chance at something great and I look forward to your success.

I signed on to leave you when I thought I never could
With the dream of giving you better, of making your life good.
I struggled to become someone I’ve never thought I could be
I learned discipline, warrior skills, and even broke my body
I learned to be strong for you, myself and others
All to be able to give you what I know you deserve.

Today, my sons, my daughter, I am thankful for you being such an amazing part of my life
I pray I gave you memories to love and taught you how to dream big
With honor I say I’m proud to be your mother, your friend, your soldier
For you and my country, my life I will surely give.
Remember me when I’m gone and know that what I did was all for you.
When it’s all said and done, my greatest honor will be to have laid down my life for you.


Nicolya’ Jones is an active duty paralegal specialist who has been in the Army for 6 years. She is the mother of three children. On September 11, 2015, her teenage son Kenyon Givens Jr. was killed on Fort Riley by a friend in what appears to have been an accidental shooting. Nicolya’ has been writing for over 20 years; it is her outlet.

The River of Sins: Saving Grace

by Lisa Wright

“It’s too hot. I’m dyin’ from this heat,” complained Grace, waving her Bible in front of her heat-reddened face like a fan. “Why don’t we go down to the river to get cool?”

“We can’t. My mama told me that the summer season we shouldn’t go down there. The city people are comin’ down to our river to wash away their sins,” said Aster. “We wouldn’t want to catch their sins, would we? And stop waving The Good Book around like a rag doll, why don’t ya? You ain’t got no respect for the Lord!”

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Beer, Here

by Valerie Bonham

Bier, hier, Bier hier, oder ich fall um, juchhe!
Bier, hier, Bier hier, oder ich fall um.

Beer, here, beer here, or I will fall down, hooray!
Beer, here, beer here, or I will fall down.

                                                                                           – German drinking song

The footsteps of Special Agent Barb Hoskins of the Bad Auerbach military intelligence unit echoed in the hallway as she passed open office doors. She was headed for the Army civilian personnel office on the second floor to collect routine information on West German nationals working on Ganzer Kaserne. The Army barracks sat on the outskirts of Bad Auerbach in the hilly Rhön, almost in northern Bavaria and mere kilometers from the fortified border of East Germany. The installation was one tip of USAREUR, the United States Army in Europe. Barb had discovered the seriousness of her job when she’d uncovered a minor spy, an Army courier siphoning information from the unclassified documents he’d carried. Just over thirty years ago, Nazi troops lived here. Now, in 1976, the Soviet Union was the enemy.

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Wilted Flower

by Laticia Brown

You were once so beautiful
And full of life.
Now you hang your head down low.
Where did that vivacity go?
You still are beautiful
And have a lot of life left.
So please wilted flower, don’t give up yet.
Wilted flower I hope you believe and know,
That you still have the strength to flourish and grow.

Laticia Brown was born in Riverside, California. She enlisted in the United States Air Force at the age of 18 and was stationed in California, Arizona, Germany, Iraq, and Turkey. After leaving the Air Force, she worked at VA hospitals in Tucson, AZ and Palo Alto, CA. In Palo Alto she endured severe depression, a suicide attempt, and homelessness. These experiences inspire her poetry. She was recently accepted to New York University and will be attending in the Fall.

An Open Letter About MST

by Lisa Wright

Dear Reader,

With all the information finally being put out there through media for all Americans to see, I felt this was the time I could finally open up to the world and share my story. I’d like it to be known that it’s not just numbers but real men and women that are becoming victims of military sexual trauma.

I was called to deploy in 2005 after I had gone through much military training, and I met with an already deployed unit in Iraq. It was a unit of strangers I hadn’t met before, but the camaraderie was unmistakable. They took me in as if I was always a member of their unit. I had a decent deployment, beyond the fact that I was nineteen and away from familiarity, as well as being subjected to live mortar attacks. I came home with mild anxiety and depression but it quickly crept up on me.

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